Imagine Inception, Matrix, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Now dilute it with flashy 300-esque CG effects and add the scantily clad charm of Burlesque, the kitsch of Showgirls and a handful of women prison movies. Bake it at 475 degrees in an Xbox for 120 minutes. Garnish with a five-minute cameo from Jon Hamm.
Voila! The cinematic dish you just cooked is called Sucker Punch.
The latest from director Zack Snyder introduces us to Baby Doll (Emily Browning) a girl who is institutionalized by her stepfather after her mother dies and the horrific death of her little sister. To cope with her time in the decrepit and ethically questionable mental institution, she closes her eyes and does a sexy dance that transports her to an imaginary dystopian land with dragons, zombie soldiers that bleed steam, and a setting where she is a sword wielding bad-ass in a Sailor Moon costume.
Along the way, she befriends Sweet Pea (Abbie Cornish), her sister Rocket (Jena Malone), Blondie (Vanessa Hudgens) and Amber (Jamie Chung — remember her from Real World: San Diego). All of them are desperately trying to break out of this institution so Baby Doll brings them with her in the aforementioned imaginary world where they dress like stripper soldiers and they kick some major ass with skanky appeal.
With co-writer Steve Shibuya and cinematographer Larry Fong behind the magic of this film, they provide a story that has potential for brilliance and visuals that sear into your retinas and make your eyes drool.
Somewhere between all the explosions, there’s a riveting story with a great “hero’s journey” component but the bells and whistles were too loud to appreciate it. For one, the dancing by Baby Doll’s character — which served as a portal to her imaginary world — was just awkward. Secondly, the Pussycat Doll production value was great eye candy, but it was leaning more towards gratuitous rather than female empowerment. Lastly, with every slow-motion-hyper-kinetic fight scene, every bit of growling gunfire, every plunging neckline, every bare midriff, every no-show-camel-toe piece of costuming, I couldn’t help but feel a rumble of self-indulgence that said, “I am going to make this movie because I can! And I know EVERYONE is going to watch it!”
And it’s true — everyone is going to watch it. I mean, who wouldn’t want to watch a bunch of twenty-something girls annihilate imaginary demons and stone samurai giants while dressed in clothes from DiscountStripper.com and Hot Topic? All the while, it’s a metaphoric adventure for these poor unfortunate institutionalized girls (honorable mention goes to Carla Gugino as Dr. Vera Gorski. Even though her accent was cringe-worthy, her mere presence was more than welcome). The layered storyline of hyper-reality and unfair treatment of girls with mental health problems falls by the wayside. The movie was indeed a sucker punch…or perhaps a computer generated bitch slap — and I am saying that with non-misogynistic undertones.
Sucker Punch opens in theaters today.